Tell me if this sounds like you:
I can’t do ____ until ____.
This month is rough, I’ll do it _____.
Once ____ is over then I’ll have time.
Sound familiar? How often have you thought about your hopes and dreams for the future, but you find yourself getting in the way?
Over the course of your life different things will take priority, and sometimes those things get in the way of the changes that we want to make. Think about it. If you answered Yes to those questions above, as in, you DO have those thoughts, did you actually follow through with the thing you wanted to do?
Speaking from my experience working with hundreds of clients, the answer is No. Most people just keep moving the deadline.
The reality is life is busy, and one obstacle usually follows the last one, and so on and so forth. And if you’re like me, or any of my clients, you think to yourself, after THIS obstacle I’ll be able to, but it often doesn't work like that.
You know the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what if it is broken, do you fix it? And if you keep following the pattern of moving your deadlines, but you never actually get to the thing you need to do, do you notice your pattern? Do you work toward changing it?
Most people don’t.
As humans, we’re habitual beings. We can have all the best intentions, but if the thing we have to do to get there causes us pain, stress, or conflicts with our everyday habits, there will be a challenge. We get hooked on what we think is important, and tell ourselves we’ll get to it, but never make it a priority. For example, we might value health and appreciate how good we feel when we exercise, but find ourselves constantly distracted by work or house chores.
One of the main reasons why we get in our own way is how we think about whatever it is that we want to change. When we are trying to adopt a new habit, whether it’s exercise, reading, or meditation, we get an idea in our head of what it “should” be. We don’t start with 10 minutes, we start with an hour. Then it starts to feel like a commitment, rather than a choice, which makes it harder and harder to adopt.
Just like you, when I want to read a book for fun, I would love to lose myself for an hour. But the reality of my life is, I don’t have an hour! I have 10-30 minutes max. So, I’ve gotten into a purposeful habit of reading 10 pages a day. If I WANT to read more I will, but 10 pages feels like a quota I can hit with joy. And even though that sometimes means I have to stop in the middle of a chapter, I still stick to my quota which makes that feel OK.
But you may read this and think, Nope, not ok with that, and I get that, but if the alternative is you never read a single page, you never start that workout plan, you never enroll in that class you’ve had your eye on, how do you plan to make real change happen? Our lives are busy and the reality is we need to detach from what we want it to look like and move forward with the small, actionable steps we can take.
WHY DO WE SET A DEADLINE?
So why do we do this- set arbitrary deadlines for ourselves? Because what inevitably happens is we get to the deadline, we realize we haven’t done those things or made those changes, and then we judge ourselves for it. That’s proof right there that we play such a passive role in our minds, not realizing we are actually the ones in command (more on that here).
Stress is part of life; it’s neither good nor bad. It becomes good or bad based on how we think about it. If you have a sensitive conversation you need to have with someone you love, you might start to feel a little anxious.
Although that might not be enjoyable, it is useful, because that anxiety fuels your motivation to think through your thoughts and decipher what you want to say, and how you can say it with love. Imagine if you felt no stress at all! You’d enter into a sensitive conversation with no empathy or sensitivity for the other person’s feelings. You don’t want to be like that!
When you think about your goals and the things that have gotten in the way of you achieve them, ask yourself these questions:
What do you do once stress has your attention?
How do you even notice you’re feeling stressed?
What results are you getting, and how is stress driving your behavior?
Don’t worry if you don’t have the answers. Most people I’ve asked don’t know how to answer these right away either. Most of us apply a negative connotation to the word “stress”, when in reality stress can be useful, helpful, and motivating. When we push stress away and avoid the things we want to or need to do, stress gets categorized with the other “negative” emotions we tend to avoid.
But in pushing away feelings of stress, we push further away from personal growth.
See, the purpose of stress is to get our attention and alert us to a threat. Once you can understand what the threat is, you then can prepare yourself to overcome it. But how do you do that if you avoid even noticing when you’re stressed?
Most of us default to the 1-2 punch: stress gets our attention, we avoid it, and it invites in those negative, guilty feelings that make us feel bad about ourselves. There’s got to be a better way.
THE BETTER WAY
I’m going to give it to you in three simple steps:
1. Create a stress scale
Since it’s our stress that is the cause of those pressurized feelings we get when we think we have to complete X before tackling Y, it makes sense to get to know our stress. Kind of like you’d get to know a good friend, you want to examine the experience you have within yourself.
Try to identify 3-5 levels. One level should be indicative of when your stress is overwhelming and how you experience that. Another should highlight the first thing you notice. The third should be a place where once you’re experiencing those symptoms of stress you don’t know how to create calmness within. (See the attached example)
2. Notice you’re setting a deadline
You can’t do much to change your patterns until you recognize you’ve fallen into the same avoidant behavior over and over again of convincing yourself that “a later date” is the time to do something. There is never going to be a good time. You just have to start. Refer back to the journal entry you made above, and figure out when you start convincing yourself to push your deadlines, so you know the warning signs.
3. Start small and build on the wins
We all like to be successful at things we put our minds to. It’s normal. But when you overextend yourself with lofty, hard-to-reach goals (like shooting for an hour workout instead of starting with 15 minutes). So instead of never starting, build it up. When you set a small goal and you see yourself succeed, it builds your self esteem. In turn, that adds to your motivation. According to Simon Sineck starting small makes you 77% more likely to see the change you want in your life.
DO YOUR BEST
When reading Brene Book, Daring Greatly, one of the comments she makes is to assume that everyone is doing their best. I really like that. We can get so caught up in comparison and fear that we aren’t on the right track. Driving our mind like a slave because we constantly feel the pull of more. But we also haven’t found a balance, we’re just racing life.
I fully believe each and everyone of you are doing your best, I’m just suggesting with some introspection and proactive action you might be able to find a new level within yourself. One that honors you and your needs, where you’re not always running on fumes.
So, are you ready to get started? Let’s do this.
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